But when the days were numbered, then befell
The parting of our Lord—which was to be—
Whereby came wailing in the Golden Home,
Woe to the King and sorrow o'er the land,
But for all flesh deliverance, and that Law
Which whoso hears, the same shall make him free.
Softly the Indian night sinks on the plains
At full moon in the month of Chaitra Shud,
When mangoes redden and the asoka buds
Sweeten the breeze, and Rama's birthday comes,
And all the fields are glad and all the towns.
Softly that night fell over Vishramvan,
Fragrant with blooms and jeweled thick with stars,
And cool with mountain airs sighing adown
From snow-flats on Himala high-outspread;
For the moon swung above the eastern peaks,
Climbing the spangled vault, and lighting clear
Robini's ripples and the hills and plains,
And all the sleeping land, and near at hand
Silvering those roof-tops of the pleasure-house,
Where nothing stirred nor sign of watching was,
Save at the outer gates, whose warders cried
Mudra, the watchword, and the countersign
Angana, and the watch-drums beat a round;
Whereat the earth lay still, except for call
Of prowling jackals, and the ceaseless trill
Of crickets on the garden grounds.
Where the moon glittered through the laceworked stone,
Lighting the walls of pearl-shell and the floors
Paved with veined marble—softly fell her beams
On such rare company of Indian girls,
It seemed some chamber sweet in Paradise
Where Devis rested. All the chosen ones
Of Prince Siddartha's pleasure-home were there,
The brightest and most faithful of the Court,
Each form so lovely in the peace of sleep,
That you had said "This is the pearl of all!"
Save that beside her or beyond her lay
Fairer and fairer, till the pleasured gaze
Roamed o'er that feast of beauty as it roams
From gem to gem in some great goldsmith-work,
Caught by each color till the next is seen.
With careless grace they lay, their soft brown limbs
Part hidden, part revealed; their glossy hair
Bound back with gold or flowers, or flowing loose
In black waves down the shapely nape and neck.
Lulled into pleasant dreams by happy toils,
They slept, no wearier than jeweled birds
Which sing and love all day, then under wing
Fold head till morn bids sing and love again.
Lamps of chased silver swinging from the roof
In silver chains, and fed with perfumed oils,
Made with the moonbeams tender lights and shades,
Whereby were seen the perfect lines of grace,
The bosom's placid heave, the soft stained palms
Drooping or clasped, the faces fair and dark,
The great arched brows, the parted lips, the teeth
Like pearls a merchant picks to make a string,
The satin-lidded eyes, with lashes dropped
Sweeping the delicate cheeks, the rounded wrists
The smooth small feet with bells and bangles decked,
Tinkling low music where some sleeper moved,
Breaking her smiling dream of some new dance
Praised by the Prince, some magic ring to find,
Some fairy love-gift. Here one lay full-length,
Her vina by her cheek, and in its strings
The little fingers still all interlaced
As when the last notes of her light song played
Those radiant eyes to sleep and sealed her own.
Another slumbered folding in her arms
A desert-antelope, its slender head
Buried with back-sloped horns between her breasts
Soft nestling; it was eating—when both drowsed—
Red roses, and her loosening hand still held
A rose half-mumbled, while a rose-leaf curled
Between the deer's lips. Here two friends had dozed
Together, wearing mogra-buds, which bound
Their sister-sweetness in a starry chain,
Linking them limb to limb and heart to heart,
One pillowed on the blossoms, one on her.
Another, ere she slept, was stringing stones
To make a necklet—agate, onyx, sard,
Coral, and moonstone—round her wrist it gleamed
A coil of splendid color, while she held,
Unthreaded yet, the bead to close it up
Green turkis, carved with golden gods and scripts.
Lulled by the cadence of the garden stream,
Thus lay they on the clustered carpets, each
A girlish rose with shut leaves, waiting dawn
To open and make daylight beautiful.
This was the antechamber of the Prince;
But at the purdah's fringe the sweetest slept—
Gunga and Gotami—chief ministers
In that still house of love.
The purdah hung,
Crimson and blue, with broidered threads of gold,
Across a portal carved in sandal-wood,
Whence by three steps the way was to the bower
Of inmost splendor, and the marriage-couch
Set on a dais soft with silver cloths,
Where the foot fell as though it trod on piles
Of neem-blooms. All the walls, were plates of pearl,
Cut shapely from the shells of Lanka's wave;
And o'er the alabaster roof there ran
Rich inlayings of lotus and of bird,
Wrought in skilled work of lazulite and jade,
Jacynth and jasper; woven round the dome,
And down the sides, and all about the frames
Wherein were set the fretted lattices,
Through which there breathed, with moonlight and
Scents from the shell-flowers and the jasmine sprays;
Not bringing thither grace or tenderness
Sweeter than shed from those fair presences
Within the place—the beauteous Sakya Prince,
And hers, the stately, bright Yasodhara.
Half risen from her soft nest at his side,
The chuddah fallen to her waist, her brow
Laid in both palms, the lovely Princess leaned
With heaving bosom and fast falling tears.
Thrice with her lips she touched Siddartha's hand,
And at the third kiss moaned: "Awake, my Lord!
Give me the comfort of thy speech!" Then he—
"What is with thee, O my life?" but still
She moaned anew before the words would come;
Then spake: "'Alas, my Prince! I sank to sleep
Most happy, for the babe I bear of thee
Quickened this eve, and at my heart there beat
That double pulse of life and joy and love
Whose happy music lulled me, but—aho!—
In slumber I beheld three sights of dread,
With thought whereof my heart is throbbing yet.
I saw a white bull with wide branching horns,
A lord of pastures, pacing through the streets,
Bearing upon his front a gem which shone
As if some star had dropped to glitter there,
Or like the kantha-stone the great Snake keeps
To make bright daylight underneath the earth.
Slow through the streets toward the gates he paced,
And none could stay him, though there came a voice
From Indra's temple, 'If ye stay him not,
The glory of the city goeth forth.
Yet none could stay him. Then I wept aloud,
And locked my arms about his neck, and strove,
And bade them bar the gates; but that ox-king
Bellowed, and, lightly tossing free his crest,
Broke from my clasp, and bursting through the bars,
Trampled the warders down and passed away.
The neat strange dream was this: Four Presences
Splendid with shining eyes, so beautiful
They seemed the Regents of the Earth who dwell
On Mount Sumeru, lighting from the sky
With retinue of countless heavenly ones,
Swift swept unto our city, where I saw
The golden flag of Indra on the gate
Flutter and fall; and lo! there rose instead
A glorious banner, all the folds whereof
Rippled with flashing fire of rubies sewn
Thick on the silver threads, the rays wherefrom
Set forth new words and weighty sentences
Whose message made all living creatures glad;
And from the east the wind of sunrise blew
With tender waft, opening those jeweled scrolls
So that all flesh might read; and wondrous blooms
Plucked in what clime I know not-fell in showers,
Colored as none are colored in our groves."
Then spake the Prince: "All this, my Lotus-flower!
Was good to see."
"Ay, Lord," the Princess said,
"Save that it ended with a voice of fear
Crying, 'The time is nigh! the time is nigh!'
Thereat the third dream came; for when I sought
Thy side, sweet Lord! ah, on our bed there lay
An unpressed pillow and an empty robe—
Nothing of thee but those!—nothing of thee,
Who art my life and light, my king, my world!
And sleeping still I rose, and sleeping saw
Thy belt of pearls, tied here below my breasts,
Change to a stinging snake; my ankle-rings
Fall off, my golden bangles part and fall;
The jasmines in my hair wither to dust;
While this our bridal-couch sank to the ground,
And something rent the crimson purdah down;
Then far away I heard the white bull low,
And far away the embroidered banner flap,
And once again that cry, 'The time is come!'
But with that cry—which shakes my spirit still—
I woke! O Prince! what may such visions mean
Except I die, or—worse than any death—
Thou shouldst forsake me or be taken?"
As the last smile of sunset was the look
Siddartha bent upon his weeping wife.
"Comfort thee, dear!" he said, "if comfort lives
In changeless love; for though thy dreams may be
Shadows of things to come, and though the gods
Are shaken in their seats, and though the world
Stands nigh, perchance, to know some way of help,
Yet, whatsoever fall to thee and me,
Be sure I loved and love Yasodhara.
Thou knowest how I muse these many moons,
Seeking to save the sad earth I have seen;
And when the time comes, that which will be will.
But if my soul yearns sore for souls unknown,
And if I grieve for griefs which are not mine,
Judge how my high-winged thoughts must hover here
O'er all these lives that share and sweeten mine
So dear! and thine the dearest, gentlest, best,
And nearest. Ah, thou mother of my babe!
Whose body mixed with mine for this fair hope,
When most my spirit wanders, ranging round
The lands and seas—as full of ruth for men
As the far-flying dove is full of ruth
For her twin nestlings—ever it has come
Home with glad wing and passionate plumes to thee,
Who art the sweetness of my kind best seen,
The utmost of their good, the tenderest
Of all their tenderness, mine most of all.
Therefore, whatever after this betide,
Bethink thee of that lordly bull which lowed,
That jeweled banner in thy dreams which waved
Its folds departing, and of this be sure,
Always I loved and always love thee well,
And what I sought for all sought most for thee.
But thou, take comfort; and, if sorrow falls,
Take comfort still in deeming there may be
A way of peace on earth by woes of ours;
And have with this embrace what faithful love
Can think of thanks or frame for benison—
Too little, seeing love's strong self is weak—
Yet kiss me on the mouth, and drink these words
From heart to heart therewith, that thou mayst know—
What others will not—that I loved thee most
Because I loved so well all living souls.
Now, Princess! rest, for I will rise and watch."
Then in her tears she slept, but sleeping sighed—
As if that vision passed again—"The time!
The time is come!" Whereat Siddartha turned,
And, lo! the moon shone by the Crab! the stars
In that same silver order long foretold
Stood ranged to say: "This is the night!—choose thou
The way of greatness or the way of good
To reign a King of kings, or wander lone,
Crownless and homeless, that the world be helped."
Moreover, with the whispers of the gloom
Came to his ears again that warning song,
As when the Devas spoke upon the wind:
And surely gods were round about the place
Watching our Lord, who watched the shining stars.
"I will depart," he spake; "the hour is come!
Thy tender lips, dear sleeper, summon me
To that which saves the earth but sunders us;
And in the silence of yon sky I read
My fated message flashing. Unto this
Came I, and unto this all nights and days
Have led me; for I will not have that crown
Which may be mine: I lay aside those realms
Which wait the gleaming of my naked sword
My chariot shall not roll with bloody wheels
From victory to victory, till earth
Wears the red record of my name. I choose
To tread its paths with patient, stainless feet,
Making its dust my bed, its loneliest wastes
My dwelling, and its meanest things my mates:
Clad in no prouder garb than outcasts wear,
Fed with no meats save what the charitable
Give of their will, sheltered by no more pomp
Than the dim cave lends or the jungle-bush,
This will I do because the woeful cry
Of life and all flesh living cometh up
Into my ears, and all my soul is full
Of pity for the sickness of this world;
Which I will heal, if healing may be found
By uttermost renouncing and strong strife.
For which of all the great and lesser gods
Have power or pity? Who hath seen them—who?
What have they wrought to help their worshipers?
How hath it steaded man to pray, and pay
Tithes of the corn and oil, to chant the charms,
To slay the shrieking sacrifice, to rear
The stately fane, to feed the priests, and call
On Vishnu, Shiva, Surya, who save
None—not the worthiest—from the griefs that teach
Those litanies of flattery and fear
Ascending day by day, like wasted smoke?
Hath any of my brothers 'scaped thereby
The aches of life, the stings of love and loss,
The fiery fever and the ague-shake,
The slow, dull sinking into withered age,
The horrible dark death—and what beyond
Waits—till the whirling wheel comes up again,
And new lives bring new sorrows to be borne,
New generations for the new desires
Which have their end in the old mockeries?
Hath any of my tender sisters found
Fruit of the fast or harvest of the hymn,
Or bought one pang the less at bearing-time
For white curds offered and trim tulsi-leaves?
Nay; it may be some of the gods are good
And evil some, but all in action weak;
Both pitiful and pitiless, and both
As men are—bound upon this wheel of change,
Knowing the former and the after lives.
For so our scriptures truly seem to teach,
That—once, and wheresoe'er, and whence begun—
Life runs its rounds of living, climbing up
From mote, and gnat, and worm, reptile, and fish,
Bird and shagged beast, man, demon, Deva, God,
To clod and mote again; so are we kin
To all that is; and thus, if one might save
Man from his curse, the whole wide world should share
The lightened horror of this ignorance
Whose shadow is chill fear, and cruelty
Its bitter pastime. Yea, if one might save!
And means must be! There must be refuge!"
Perished in winter-winds till one smote fire
From flint-stones coldly hiding what they held,
The red spark treasured from the kindling sun.
They gorged on flesh like wolves, till one sowed corn,
Which grew a weed, yet makes the life of man;
They mowed and babbled till some tongue struck speech,
And patient fingers framed the lettered sound.
What good gift have my brothers but it came
From search and strife and loving sacrifice?
If one, then, being great and fortunate,
Rich, dowered with health and ease, from birth designed
To rule—if he would rule—a King of kings;
If one, not tired with life's long day, but glad
I' the freshness of its morning, one not cloyed
With love's delicious feasts, but hungry still;
If one not worn and wrinkled, sadly sage,
But joyous in the glory and the grace
That mix with evils here, and free to choose
Earth's loveliest at his will: one even as I,
Who ache not, lack not, grieve not, save with griefs
Which are not mine, except as I am man;—
If such a one, having so much to give,
Gave all, laying it down for love of men.
And thenceforth spent himself to search for truth,
Wringing the secret of deliverance forth,
Whether it lurk in hells or hide in heavens,
Or hover, unrevealed, nigh unto all:
Surely at last, far off, sometime, somewhere,
The veil would lift for his deep-searching eyes,
The road would open for his painful feet,
That should be won for which he lost the world,
And Death might find him conqueror of death.
This will I do, who have a realm to lose,
Because I love my realm, because my heart
Beats with each throb of all the hearts that ache,
Known and unknown, these that are mine and those
Which shall be mine, a thousand million more
Saved by this sacrifice I offer now.
Oh, summoning stars! Oh, mournful earth
For thee and thine I lay aside my youth,
My throne, my joys, my golden days, my nights,
My happy palace—and thine arms, sweet Queen!
Harder to put aside than all the rest!
Yet thee, too, I shall save, saving this earth;
And that which stirs within thy tender womb,
My child, the hidden blossom of our loves,
Whom if I wait to bless my mind will fail.
Wife! child! father! and people! ye must share
A little while the anguish of this hour
That light may break and all flesh learn the Law.
Now am I fixed, and now I will depart,
Never to come again till what I seek
Be found—if fervent search and strife avail."
So with his brow he touched her feet, and bent
The farewell of fond eyes, unutterable,
Upon her sleeping face, still wet with tears;
And thrice around the bed in reverence,
As though it were an altar, softly stepped
With clasped hands laid upon his beating heart,
"For never," spake he, "lie I there again!"
And thrice he made to go, but thrice came back,
So strong her beauty was, so large his love
Then, o'er his head drawing his cloth, he turned
And raised the purdah's edge.
There drooped, close-hushed,
In such sealed sleep as water-lilies know,
The lovely garden of his Indian girls;
Those twin dark-petalled lotus-buds of all—
Gunga and Gotami—on either side,
And those, their silk-leaved sisterhood, beyond.
"Pleasant ye are to me, sweet friends!" he said,
"And dear to leave; yet if I leave ye not
What else will come to all of us save eld
Without assuage and death without avail?
Lo! as ye lie asleep so must ye lie
A-dead; and when the rose dies where are gone
Its scent and splendor? when the lamp is drained
Whither is fled the flame? Press heavy, Night!
Upon their down-dropped lids and seal their lips,
That no tear stay me and no faithful voice.
For all the brighter that these made my life,
The bitterer it is that they and I,
And all, should live as trees do—so much spring,
Such and such rains and frosts, such wintertimes,
And then dead leaves, with maybe spring again,
Or axe-stroke at the root. This will not I,
Whose life here was a god's!—this would not I,
Though all my days were godlike, while men moan
Under their darkness. Therefore farewell, friends!
While life is good to give, I give, and go
To seek deliverance and that unknown Light!"
Then, lightly treading where those sleepers lay,
Into the night Siddartha passed: its eyes,
The watchful stars, looked love on him: its breath,
The wandering wind, kissed his robe's fluttered fringe;
The garden-blossoms, folded for the dawn,
Opened their velvet hearts to waft him scents
From pink and purple censers: o'er the land,
From Himalay unto the Indian Sea,
A tremor spread, as if earth's soul beneath
Stirred with an unknown hope; and holy books—
Which tell the story of our Lord—say, too,
That rich celestial musics thrilled the air
From hosts on hosts of shining ones, who thronged
Eastward and westward, making bright the night
Northward and southward, making glad the ground.
Also those four dread Regents of the Earth,
Descending at the doorway, two by two,—
With their bright legions of Invisibles
In arms of sapphire, silver, gold, and pearl—
Watched with joined hands the Indian Prince, who stood,
His tearful eyes raised to the stars, and lips
Close-set with purpose of prodigious love.
Then strode he forth into the gloom and cried,
"Channa, awake! and bring out Kantaka!"
"What would my Lord?" the charioteer replied—
Slow-rising from his place beside the gate
"To ride at night when all the ways are dark?"
"Speak low," Siddartha said, "and bring my horse,
For now the hour is come when I should quit
This golden prison where my heart lives caged
To find the truth; which henceforth I will seek,
For all men's sake, until the truth be found."
"Alas! dear Prince," answered the charioteer,
"Spake then for naught those wise and holy men
Who cast the stars and bade us wait the time
When King Suddhodana's great son should rule
Realms upon realms, and be a Lord of lords?
Wilt thou ride hence and let the rich world slip
Out of thy grasp, to hold a beggar's bowl?
Wilt thou go forth into the friendless waste
That hast this Paradise of pleasures here?"
The Prince made answer: "Unto this I came,
And not for thrones: the kingdom that I crave
Is more than many realms, and all things pass
To change and death. Bring me forth Kantaka!"
"Most honored," spake again the charioteer,
"Bethink thee of their woe whose bliss thou art—
How shalt thou help them, first undoing them?"
Siddartha answered: "Friend, that love is false
Which clings to love for selfish sweets of love;
But I, who love these more than joys of mine—
Yea, more than joy of theirs—depart to save
Them and all flesh, if utmost love avail.
Go, bring me Kantaka!"
Then Channa said,
"Master, I go!" and forthwith, mournfully,
Unto the stall he passed, and from the rack
Took down the silver bit and bridle-chains,
Breast-cord and curb, and knitted fast the straps,
And linked the hooks, and led out Kantaka
Whom tethering to the ring, he combed and dressed,
Stroking the snowy coat to silken gloss;
Next on the steed he laid the numdah square,
Fitted the saddle-cloth across, and set
The saddle fair, drew tight the jeweled girths,
Buckled the breech-bands and the martingale,
And made fall both the stirrups of worked gold.
Then over all he cast a golden net,
With tassels of seed-pearl and silken strings,
And led the great horse to the palace door,
Where stood the Prince; but when he saw his Lord,
Right glad he waxed and joyously he neighed,
Spreading his scarlet nostrils; and the books
Write, "Surely all had heard Kantaka's neigh,
And that strong trampling of his iron heels,
Save that the Devas laid their unseen wings
Over their ears and kept the sleepers deaf."
Fondly Siddartha drew the proud head down,
Patted the shining neck, and said, "Be still,
White Kantaka! be still, and bear me now
The farthest journey ever rider rode;
For this night take I horse to find the truth,
And where my quest will end yet know I not,
Save that it shall not end until I find.
Therefore tonight, good steed, be fierce and bold!
Let nothing stay thee, though a thousand blades
Deny the road! let neither wall nor moat
Forbid our flight! Look! if I touch thy flank
And cry, 'On, Kantaka! I let whirlwinds lag
Behind thy course! Be fire and air, my horse!
To stead thy Lord, so shalt thou share with him
The greatness of this deed which helps the world;
For therefore ride I, not for men alone,
But for all things which, speechless, share our pain
And have no hope, nor wit to ask for hope.
Now, therefore, bear thy master valorously!"
Then to the saddle lightly leaping, he
Touched the arched crest, and Kantaka sprang forth
With armed hoofs sparkling on the stones and ring
Of champing bit; but none did hear that sound,
For that the Suddha Devas, gathering near,
Plucked the red mohra-flowers and strewed them thick
Under his tread, while hands invisible
Muffled the ringing bit and bridle chains.
Moreover, it is written when they came
Upon the pavement near the inner gates,
The Yakshas of the air laid magic cloths
Under the stallion's feet, so that he went
Softly and still.
But when they reached the gate
Of tripled brass—which hardly fivescore men
Served to unbar and open—lo! the doors
Rolled back all silently, though one might hear
In daytime two koss off the thunderous roar
Of those grim hinges and unwieldy plates.
Also the middle and the outer gates
Unfolded each their monstrous portals thus
In silence as Siddartha and his steed
Drew near; while underneath their shadow lay.
Silent as dead men, all those chosen guards—
The lance and sword let fall, the shields unbraced,
Captains and soldiers—for there came a wind,
Drowsier than blows o'er Malwa's fields of sleep
Before the Prince's path, which, being breathed,
Lulled every sense aswoon: and so he passed
Free from the palace.
When the morning star
Stood half a spear's length from the eastern rim,
And o'er the earth the breath of morning sighed
Rippling Anoma's wave, the border-stream,
Then drew he rein, and leaped to earth and kissed
White Kantaka betwixt the ears, and spake
Full sweet to Channa: "This which thou hast done
Shall bring thee good and bring all creatures good.
Be sure I love thee always for thy love.
Lead back my horse and take my crest-pearl here,
My princely robes, which henceforth stead me not,
My jeweled sword-belt and my sword, and these
The long locks by its bright edge severed thus
From off my brows. Give the King all, and say
Siddartha prays forget him till he come
Ten times a prince, with royal wisdom won
From lonely searchings and the strife for light;
Where, if I conquer, lo! all earth is mine—
Mine by chief service!—tell him—mine by love!
Since there is hope for man only in man,
And none hath sought for this as I will seek,
Who cast away my world to save my world."
More from Sir Edwin Arnold
- Lived from June 10th, 1832 to March 24th, 1904
- The Light of Asia is his best known work.
- Born in Gravesend, Kent, United Kingdom
- Knighted in 1888